How did Jack die?
It's the question that has haunted This Is Us since Episode 5 of Season 1 and has enveloped the entire fan base in a frenzy. It's the question we have to know the answer to, and it inspires even more queries. Season 2 began to fulfill creator Dan Fogelman's promise that "all will be revealed" around this life changing event for the Pearsons with a single shot of the family home burned down at the end of the season premiere.
Admittedly, we've been part of the problem. The second that house came into frame it was the only thing we wanted to talk about, too. That's not what this show should be about though, and it is about time that we started taking Milo Ventimiglia's advice to celebrate Jack's (Ventimiglia) life instead of his death — and we should take the time to relish the time with the Pearsons instead of digging for clues. Season 2 is diving deep into characters that it only scratched the surface with in Season 1, but have we been too busy wishing and looking for clues about the fire that we've overlooked the good character work that's being done?
If you're also part of the problem, join us as we discuss all the other things that make This Is Us such a great show.
Rebecca: The most important part of This Is Us' Season 2 premiere wasn't the reveal of the Pearsons' burned down house — it was Rebecca's (Mandy Moore) monologue to Jack outside of Miguel's (Jon Huertas) house the night after their big fight.
Rebecca almost earned herself the title of show villain in Season 1 as she put her needs above that of her family. She deprived Randall (Sterling K. Brown) the right of knowing his birth father and went on tour as her marriage with Jack hit a crossroads. However, the premiere had her showing up on Miguel's doorstep and refusing to let him suffer alone. She made him get in the car. Rebecca was the one keeping their team intact and so far this season she's been the savior of this marriage. It's a side of her that could have always been there, but it's the first time that audiences have been able to see that.
Before viewers could allow Rebecca's development to sink in though, This Is Us revealed the house and suddenly the conversation shifted course to what it meant about Jack's death. That carried into Episode 2 as Rebecca tried to help Jack reconquer his drinking problem as fans were anxious to discover clues rather than appreciate Rebecca stepping up to the plate.
Beth and Randall: Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) and Randall have always been standout performers on this show, but their journey to foster and potentially adopt a troubled team has elevated their storyline to masterclass level. Their throw down in the premiere that led to a heart-swelling "perfectly imperfect" speech could go down as one of the show's top 5 monologues.
Randall's storyline was so entangled with William's (Ron Cephas Jones) last year that his marriage with Beth was more of a hint than properly explored terrain. Bringing Deja into their home has allowed us to see them in full working glory and a groundbreaking depiction of a black family on a primetime drama. This storyline is exploring important issues of identity, family and abuse. There's so much more to see as Deja slowly reveals her reluctance to trust men and tests Beth and Randall's bond as they try to give her a good life. Those subtle cues and nuances shouldn't be overlooked in a clamor to find out whether Jack was drunk when the fire started or not.
Kate: Hey-o! Kate (Chrissy Metz) is pregnant. We know you didn't miss that, but did you connect the dots that Kate probably found out she was expecting at about the same time that Rebecca came to LA to see the taping of The Manny? That puts a new spin on their fight and why Kate was so harsh to Rebecca after her gig.
We know that the issues between Kate and Rebecca have been a significant factor in Kate's weight problems, but the knowledge of bringing a child of hers into the world would also make Kate more critical of the way her own mother raised her. She's not just being oversensitive or bitchy, she's trying to reconcile how she grew up so she might avoid putting her own child through that.
Rebecca is the crux of Kate's journey, whether it's the start of her career, losing weight or becoming a mother in Rebecca's shadow. There's a lot of rich emotional material to deal with there as more of their relationship is revealed. But it's easy to get distracted wanting to know why Kate blames herself for Jack's death. Did she start the fire? Did the dog she was holding in her lap have anything to do with it? They're good questions, but they're also missing the point of Kate's entire journey.
Jack: Jack's death is also overshadowing his own living storyline. After rising to near martyrdom in Season 1, This Is Us has been exploring his flaws and digging deeper into the things that made Jack just a man instead of the best dad we have ever seen. We were led to believe that Jack magically fixed his drinking problem when Rebecca told him to fix it early in Season 1, but this sophomore season has dug deeper into his addiction and the hold that it's had on him for almost a decade.
It should be enough to want to get to know Jack on a better level and to explore another side of Jack, but instead the deep dive into his drinking problem is merely an extension of the investigation into how he died. The idea that Jack was drunk when he died or that his alcoholism contributed to his death threatens to take a wrecking ball to the foundation of the fictional man we've grown to love. Therefore, we ignore the significance of what Jack's struggle means to him overall because we're worried about how it contributes to his eventual end — and that overshadows its general significance overall.
Kevin: The simplifying of Jack's addiction struggles to how factors into his death most directly affects his eldest son, Kevin (Justin Hartley). We watched Kevin struggle to reconnect with his own integrity for the majority of Season 1, but Season 2 is attempting to go deeper into Kevin's psyche, which might include an addiction problem of his own.
We're unsure of what Kevin's history with substance abuse is — but we do know he's not using the pain killers prescribed for his leg injury in the correct fashion. The timing of his denial of the injury comes at the same time that Jack's death comes to the forefront of Kevin's mind while filming his new movie. Immediately, the connection goes back to Jack's death. Ugh, see? We just did it right now.
The focus should be on the fact that Kevin's leg injury and his bizarre behavior around treating it is the most interesting development we've had in his character since the start of the series. It is enough to see Kevin have layers and to get to explore those — for whatever reason they were created — rather than drawing it back to a mysterious event that won't be unfolded in any specific amount of time.
Good things are happening on This Is Us. The show is doing better by its characters, but that work is being overshadowed by an event used to emotionally manipulate the viewers. The better, more fulfilling content then the mystery is there but we're distracted by the unknown. Maybe we should let it go and start paying better attention.
This Is Us continues Tuesdays at 9/8c on NBC.